Redlining, racism and food access in US urban cores

Agric Human Values. 2023;40(1):101-112. doi: 10.1007/s10460-022-10340-3. Epub 2022 Jul 22.


In the 1930s, the Home Owners' Loan Corporation (HOLC) graded the mortgage security of urban US neighborhoods. In doing so, the HOLC engaged in the practice, imbued with racism and xenophobia, of "redlining" neighborhoods deemed "hazardous" for lenders. Redlining has caused persistent social, political and economic problems for communities of color. Linkages between redlining and contemporary food access remain unexamined, even though food access is essential to well-being. To investigate this, we used a census tract-level measure of low-income and low grocery store food access from the US Department of Agriculture Food Access Research Atlas, redlining data from Mapping Inequality Project, and demographic data from the American Community Survey. We employed generalized estimating equations with robust covariance estimates to analyze data pertaining to 10,459 census tracts in 202 US cities. Tracts that the HOLC graded as "C" ("decline in desirability") and "D" ("hazardous") had reduced contemporary food access compared to those graded "A" ("best"). Increases in contemporary census tract proportions of Black, Hispanic, or other racial/ethnic minority residents, as well as disabled residents, were associated with reduced food access. Increases in contemporary proportions of residents age 75 years and older or those without a car were associated with better food access. Tracts that underwent housing redevelopment since being graded had better food access, while those undergoing gentrification had reduced food access. Results suggest that issues of redlining, housing discrimination, racism, ableism, displacement, and food inaccessibility are deeply intertwined.

Keywords: Food access; Food justice; HOLC zones; Racially/ethnically minoritized groups; Redlining.